Tell Georgia not to kill Kelly Gissendaner!


Kelly Gissendaner at her 2011 graduation at Arrendale State Prison

In Georgia, Kelly Gissendaner was going to be the 16th woman to be executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. Six women have been put to death in Texas. All the executions have occurred in Southern states. While California boasts the highest rate of death sentence for women, thus far none have been executed.

Kelly Gissendaner could have been the first woman executed in Georgia since 1945.

She was accused of killing her husband in 1997. She didn’t actually kill her husband; she asked her boyfriend at the time to do it. He was sentenced to life in prison with possibility of parole after 25 years. She was convicted of “malice murder” in 1998 and sentenced to death.

Both judge and media presented her as a greedy witch who had masterminded the murder. The plea bargain deal made with her boyfriend in exchange for his testimony against her did not bother too many people.

This case confirms that the death penalty carries the images of sin offerings.

Gissendaner’s first scheduled execution was postponed because of a winter storm on February 25th. The execution was rescheduled for Monday evening, and this time the executioner realized that the drug for the lethal injection was not going to work “quickly and properly” as it appeared cloudy. The recent agony of prisoners in Oklahoma after botched executions had brought international attention, shedding light on the brutality of the penal system of the United States. Nobody wanted to have more publicity added to this already disturbing judicial proceeding.

During the almost 17 years of waiting for a possible execution, Kelly Gissendaner went to school and completed a theology degree. More importantly, she changed her vision on life and expressed sincere remorse. She became a teacher who helped fellow inmates and was qualified as a role model by former wardens. Twenty-four people along with her three children begged for clemency to no avail. Her appeals were all denied. After the first attempt to kill her, more people took action to spare her life. Four hundred clergy sent letters. On February 27, the New York Times published an article, with moving testimony on her favor of a renowned theologian.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of an eye for an eye, the attorney for her husband’s family declared that the death sentence was appropriate for the crime. What she has done since is not worth considering.

These declarations and delays remind us of the demonic dimension of the death penalty; why not kill the condemned immediately if redemption is unattainable. If the vengeance in the death sentence includes that the victim of this revenge must dig her own grave year after year, it just confirms the impossibility of this sentence in a human society. Thus, her execution should be judged as malice murder.

Gender plays a particular role in this case. Kelly Gissendaner appeared as a monster because she transgressed the heterosexual role of the wife and the mother. The 16 women who have been executed since 1973 also transgressed this invisibly present boundary, making their crimes even more appealing for the execution of a death sentence.

The violent pulse of this case demonstrates that there is no equality in sentencing. All this works as a ritual that dehumanizes the condemned. It bans all emotions and allows every one that is involved in the death penalty process to ignore his or her own responsibility in the death of a human being, explains Denis Salas in The Will to Punish. The saga of the chronicle of Kelly Gissendaner’s sadistic delayed execution does not serve justice. It adds to the trivialization of populist moralistic biased judgments with no shame for putting to death a fellow woman.

The only way to remedy this cruel and barbarous punishment is to demand “pure and simple abolition of the death penalty.” as Victor Hugo argued in 1848. But first, Kelly Gissendaner must not be killed!


(Image Credit: United Methodist Church / Ann Borden)

About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States. She is a member of Women Included, a new transnational feminist collective, that is part of the Women 7, a coalition that advocates for the inclusion of women's rights in the G7.